Most art historians will recognize this painting as “Evening on Karl Johan”, painted sometime in 1892, while its creator Edvard Munch was still a young man.
Modern commentators have described this painting as an existentialist cri de coeur, a public declaration hoping to wake up the somnolent crowd and face the reality of their lives. This is a reasonable interpretation if you did not know the true story of The Revenant of Kristiania, the painting’s original title.
Kristiania, now known as Oslo, was founded by Harald Sigurdsson in 1048. Harald’s career is a storied one. He fought for the Byzantine Empire (distinguishing himself with his valor and luck, and reputedly making himself one of the richest men in the world by looting the Imperial treasury after the death of three emperors.) He escaped Byzantine prison, and returned to Norway to discover that his half-brother was ruling in his stead.
According to legend, he made a pact with the forces of darkness so that he could be the sole ruler, and when his brother was killed by tainted lutefisk, he made Norway a great kingdom; he then invaded England in 1066. He was killed at the Battle of Stamford Bridge, and his soul returned to city that he founded to forever rule over it with a crushing sense of ennui and depression.
Most people like to blame this effect on long winters, shortened daylight hours, and the existence of lutefisk, but Munch had the courage to show the real story.
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